“We can confirm the safety of the 42-year-old man from New South Wales reported missing in the region of Kiribathigodaj, Sri Lanka,” the department said in a statement issued this morning.
But DFAT said “it would be inappropriate to discuss further details at this time”.
Earlier, Mr Gunaratnam’s wife, Champa Somaratna, a GP in Sydney, told Fairfax she believed her husband had been abducted by security forces as part of a crackdown on political dissent by the conservative government of the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sri Lankan authorities denied the charge and said they had no proof that Mr Gunaratnam has even entered the country.
Mr Gunaratnam, 46, is a well-known figure in Sri Lanka and was a long-time member of the country’s main leftist party, the JVP. He recently announced his intention to form a new party.
His brother, Ranjitham, had been a student activist and a senior JVP figure until his alleged detention, torture and killing by the government in 1989.
When asked why her husband had been abducted by Mr Rajapaksa’s government, Dr Somaratna said: ”In Sri Lanka there is no proper opposition. All the opposition [parties] are suppressed by the government.”
She said he had been staying at a house in north-west Colombo. Friends had gone to the house when he failed to attend an early morning meeting on Saturday but found it ransacked.
Dr Somaratna reported his disappearance to the Foreign Affairs Department and, in an unusual step, the Australian high commissioner, Robyn Mudie, immediately requested a meeting with the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary and brother to the President, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
Sri Lanka alleges Mr Gunaratnam is a militant radical who has led attacks on army bases. A leaked state intelligence document circulating in Sri Lanka says he has at least four aliases and passports under false names.
“He was at one time a high-ranking subversive activist involved in many crimes, including the attack on the Pallekele army camp in 1987, and escaped from the Magazine Prison [in 1988], where he was detained under the Terrorism Prevention Act,” the document says.
It alleges Mr Gunaratnam fled the country in 2006, having provided forged documents to the Australian embassy.
The veracity of the government’s document and its claims could not be confirmed last night.
Groundviews, an agency monitoring Sri Lankan politics, said local media had reported 56 such disappearances in the past six months.
BEN DOHERTY, DYLAN WELCH